University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

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Growth, Poverty, and the Recognition Blues

In The View from the OEP on April 17, 2018 at 4:17 pm

school moneLast week, the ADE released a bunch of information about Arkansas schools, including A-F letter grades, state report cards, and ESSA reports.  Here at OEP, we feel that growth scores are the most important piece of information that was released, and today we want to share some more details about why growth is so important, and why some deserving schools may have missed out on the recognition and reward money.

Growth and Poverty

Growth is so important because it gives a different perspective on how well students are learning in a school, and is not as correlated with student demographics as achievement is. In the graph below, we present the weighted achievement scores and the % of FRL students enrolled at the school (a proxy for poverty).  Weighted achievement scores range from 2 to 105, and FRL rates range from 100% of students eligible to fewer than 5% (note: Haas Hall does not report FRL %ages and so are excluded from the graph).

The values are related in the way that we would expect (a lower percentage of FRL students= higher achievement), and are correlated at R=0.52.  There are some schools that have much higher than typical achievement given the % FRL in their student population, which is awesome, but in general, schools serving more FRL-eligibile students have lower achievement scores.


By contrast, below we present the content growth scores and the % of FRL students enrolled at the school.  You can see that the values are not as related  (fewer FRL students doesn’t always mean higher growth), and have a lower correlation at R=0.21.  This is a good thing- because we want kids in all schools to be making growth in learning from one year to the next!


You will also notice that the content growth values are all clustered around 80, making it is hard to tell a difference between ‘high growth’ and ‘low growth’ when the axis is scaled from 0 to 125 like the weighted achievement graph.  This is exactly what we mentioned in the OpEd last week– the growth values have a relatively small range (very small standard deviations) compared to the achievement scores.  Below we share a version of the content and a FRL graph with an ‘adjusted axis’ that runs from 70 to 90, so you can see differences in the growth scores.


With the adjusted axis, you can see differences in content growth scores! There are some schools with low-FRL percentages with high content growth in the upper right corner of the graph.  One example is Willowbrook Elementary in Bentonville, with 15% of students eligible for FRL and content growth score of 89.35.  There are also some high-FRL schools with high content growth scores which are in the upper left corner of the graph. One example is Jones Elementary in Springdale where 98% of students are eligible for FRL, 84% are identified as limited English, and a content growth score of 88.96.  Despite the differences in the student populations served by these two schools, students at both schools demonstrated high growth scores. This is something to celebrate!

The Recognition Blues

Arkansas’ School Recognition Program provides funds for “outstanding schools”.  Schools are rewarded for being in the top 5% (or the 6th to 10th %) in achievement and/or growth.

Given what we know about the relationship between achievement and FRL rates, it should not be surprising that Willowbrook Elementary (with 15% FRL) received reward money for being in the top 5% for achievement, and that Jones Elementary (with 97% FRL) did not. However, both Willowbrook and Jones Elementary received a reward and recognition money for being in the top 5% of content growth among Arkansas schools.

When we were examining who else was rewarded, we noticed that most of the money went to elementary schools. In fact, 59% of the performance rewards, and 65% of the growth rewards went to elementary schools. This made us scratch our heads.

We know that elementary schools are different from schools serving middle and high schools in many ways, but school level also matters when it comes to achievement and growth. In the powerpoint that summarizes the ESSA Indicators, descriptive statistics for each indicator is provided by school level: Elementary, Middle, or High.  You can find the rules for how schools were assigned a level here.  There are substantial differences between the school level groups on achievement scores. For example, let’s examine the achievement score received by schools in the top 5% of each school level.

  • Elementary level = 93.79,
  • Middle level = 91.85, and
  • High school level = 76.53.

The top 5% of elementary schools have higher achievement scores than middle schools and much higher achievement scores (+17 points  or greater than 1 standard deviation) than high schools. It makes sense, then, that about 7% of elementary level and middle level schools were rewarded for highest 5% achievement, but only 1% of high schools received reward money for achievement.

The differences for growth scores between the groups are not as glaring as achievement differences, but remember that the standard deviation is only about 3, so the top 5% of elementary schools have growth scores again about 1 standard deviation higher than middle and high schools.

  • Elementary level = 87.09,
  • Middle level = 84.71, and
  • High school level = 83.94.

We expected to find the top 5% rewards again dominated by  elementary schools, but were surprised to find that 7% of elementary level schools were rewarded for growth along with 5% of high schools. Interestingly, NO middle level schools were rewarded for growth.

We saw that the top 5% of middle schools and high schools have similar growth scores, so why are middle schools not getting recognized?  The recognition program for high schools includes graduation rate, (70% for growth and 30% graduation rate), which generally increases the growth score because graduation rates are typically higher than growth rates. With the deck stacked against them, not even J.O. Kelly, the highest growth middle level school in the state ( J.O. Kelly from Springdale) could crack the top 5% for growth.

The legislation for the reward program clearly states that schools will be rewarded for being in the top tier “of all public schools”, but here at OEP, we would love to see schools  awarded recognition and reward money based on their ranking WITHIN their school level.  Making this change would be more equitable for all schools, and would align more closely with the state’s ESSA plan. If we want to incentivize schools to achieve and show growth, we have to make sure schools in all levels have a chance for rewards and recognition.

Hey! If you want to see how your school ranks within schools serving similar grade levels , check our database. We ranked schools within their school levels, making it easy to identify the elementary schools with the highest achievement scores as well as the high schools with the highest growth scores.


NAEP Nuggets!

In The View from the OEP on April 10, 2018 at 3:31 pm

NAEP results were released today, and Arkansas’ results look about the same as they did in 2015. NAEP is administered nationally to a representative sample of students from all 50 states, so acts as a standard measure of student performance across states and time.

This trend of ‘meh’ was widespread across the country (although Florida had some strong gains!).  Here at OEP, we dug into the new results and are pleased to share six NAEP nuggets with you. You can learn more details in today’s policy brief!


NAEP Nugget #1:  Arkansas’ 2017 NAEP scores were essentially unchanged from the 2015 results BUT 2015 was a decline from 2013, so this is not great news because we were all hoping 2015 was a one-year-blip that we would bounce back from. In fact, as the figure below highlights, Arkansas scores were the highest in 2011 and 2013, and have trailed off since. Fingers crossed for 2019!!

NAEP 2017

Arkansas NAEP Scale Scores, 2003-2017


NAEP Nugget #2: 4th and 8th grade Math scores are lower than those of Arkansas’ border states (this group includes Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas).  This is particularly a bummer in 4th grade because we outperformed them from 2005 to 2013!


4th Grade NAEP Math Scores, 2003-2017


NAEP Nugget #3: 4th and 8th grade Reading scores are also lower than those of Arkansas’ border states. Again, this is particularly a bummer in 4th grade because we outperformed them from 2003 to 2013.

g4 reading

4th Grade NAEP Reading Scores 2003-2017


NAEP Nugget #4: Math score gaps between student groups widened in 2017 due to decreased performance of at-risk groups and increased performance of other students.


FRL NAEP Math Score Gap: 4th Grade 2003-2017


NAEP Nugget #5: 8th grade Reading score gaps between student groups decreased slightly in 2017, due to an increase in the scores for at-risk student groups.  Although the scores for black and FRL-Eligible students increased, they remain below 2013 levels.


Black/White NAEP Reading Score Gap: 8th Grade 2003-2017


NAEP Nugget #6: ACT Aspire ELA performance is similar to NAEP Reading, but Math proficiency rates are higher for ACT Aspire than for NAEP. We need to pay careful attention to the difference between the NAEP and ACT Aspire math scores.  When we send and receive conflicting messages about how well our students are performing in math, it can make it difficult to determine how well our students are doing and which sorts of educational interventions are making a difference for our students.


NAEP Proficiency and ACT Aspire Performance, 2017

We have our fingers crossed that the changes laid out in ESSA will make a big difference to student learning in Arkansas, and look forward to seeing NAEP results again in 2019.

Meanwhile- there is a lot more data coming out this week about Arkansas’ schools- follow OEP to get insight about what all the numbers really mean!


Growth Scores Matter

In The View from the OEP on April 10, 2018 at 11:00 am

Screen Shot 2018-04-12 at 11.28.10 AM

OEP wanted to share our OpEd that was published in today’s Democrat-Gazette.  We wrote it to highlight why we think a school’s growth score is critical to understanding how well a school is serving all students.  Although growth scores were supposed to be weighted more heavily in the ESSA index (on which the letter grades are calculated), in reality the schools with high growth received lower grades than schools with high achievement.

We created an interactive data visualization to help you see what we think is the most important measure of schools for parents, students, educators, and policymakers to understand.  You can also download the data behind the viz from our website. Check it out and let us know what you think!


School ratings miss opportunity

Posted: April 12, 2018 at 2:47 a.m.

Arkansas’ public schools are being assigned A-F letter grades, and we at the Office for Education Policy are always supportive of providing information on school improvement. But for a thorough understanding of how well our schools are doing, we must look beyond the school grades.

Letter grades are familiar to parents and students because teachers use them to communicate how well the student is performing in their class. Teachers can choose what counts most in their class; one teacher makes the final a huge part of the grade but doesn’t count homework for much, while another teacher counts every homework assignment and allows students who are doing well to skip the final altogether. Different approaches to grading send a signal about what is important.

Arkansas’ new school grading system was developed to send the signal that increasing students’ learning over time is more important than how many students at the school pass the annual test. We agree, but were disappointed to find that, in practice, schools with higher passing rates receive higher grades than those where students are growing more. Because the letter grade doesn’t reflect what we think is the real measure of school quality, we urge you to look beyond the grade.

The intention of the A-F school grades is to help parents and the public better understand how well a school is performing, but the current system still paints an incomplete picture and thus sends the wrong message about what matters. For years, since the No Child Left Behind legislation was signed in 2002, the measure of how well a school was performing was current achievement, measured by the percentage of the schools’ students who passed the state’s annual exams. Schools serving more advantaged students typically received “good” scores because a high percentage of their students passed, while schools serving a larger percentage of students who lived in poverty, participated in special education, or were learning English often were labeled “not good” because too few of their students were able to pass the test.

The clear connection between passage rates and student demographics suggests that point-in-time test scores were not a good measure of how well a school was educating students, but rather a reflection of the wealth of the community being served by the school. Critics (like us at OEP) suggested a better measure of school success would be based on student learning growth. Growth measures how much individual students at the school increased their scores from year to year. Using growth as a measure of school success levels the playing field because all students are evaluated by the extent to which they grow from their own starting point; thus, students facing socioeconomic barriers to achievement have the same opportunity for growth as their peers from advantaged backgrounds. All students can grow their understanding, and we should expect all schools to foster student growth, regardless of family income, first language, or learning needs.

It is true that Arkansas’ new grading system includes a category for student academic growth, alongside the category for current test passage rates. In fact, for elementary schools, growth counts as 50 percent of the grade, achievement counts for 35 percent, while “other” school quality indicators count 15 percent. Based on these numbers, it would seem that schools with high growth would get a better grade than schools with high passage rates, but it doesn’t work out that way.

In the current system, the overall school grades are influenced very little by student growth. For example, an elementary school with high growth and low current passage rates gets a “C,” while one with low growth but high passage rates gets a “B.” Even when a school is growing student learning better than 97 percent of the schools in the state (+2 standard deviations), if the school boasts only average passage rates, that school will earn a “B.” On the other hand, a school with average growth and very high passage rates will receive an “A.” Simply put, schools with high passage rates still earn better grades than schools with high growth.

The mismatch between what the letter grades were supposed to reward and what the grades actually reward is due to a mathematical problem of big differences in the variability of the measures for passage rate and for growth. Without wading too deep into the technical details, we can tell you that this issue won’t be difficult to fix, and we hope the Department of Education will adjust this for future school grades. In the meantime, however, we recommend you look past the overall grade and check your school’s growth score.

What is a really good growth score? It depends on the grade levels served by the school. Elementary schools with a growth score of 83 or higher (82 or higher for middle/ junior high, and high schools) are growing students’ understanding more than 75 percent of schools in the state.

If your school has a really good growth score, you should celebrate in a big way! Even though the overall letter grade may not reflect it, your school is doing what’s really important: helping all students learn.

Hey! What About Arkansas’ Teacher Pay?

In The View from the OEP on April 3, 2018 at 1:33 pm


In light of the recent events surrounding teacher pay in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Arizona, we wanted to take a moment to review recent OEP research about teacher pay in these states and in Arkansas.  Also, be sure to register for the OEP conference on April 24th that will address teacher pipeline issues including teacher pay!

In our report, we used three methods to examine teacher pay across the nation.  First we examined average teacher salary for each state, then we adjusted the teacher salary for state cost of living in the state, and finally we indexed the average teacher salary to the median income in the state.  Table 1 provides these values and the national ranking for each, focusing on the states that are ‘in the news’ for teacher salary.

Table 1. Average Teacher Salary, Adjusted Teacher Salary, and Median Income IndexTCHRsalary

Are teachers salaries in these states exceptionally low? It depends on how you look at it.

Let’s take West Virginia as an example. As can be seen in Table 1, West Virginia’s average teacher salary was $45,977 in 2015-16, which ranked 46th out of the 50 states and DC.  So yes, West Virginia teachers have a low average salary compared to other states. The cost of living in West Virginia is slightly below the national average (95), so when we adjust the average teacher salary by the cost of living it increases slightly to $48,397.  The state’s national ranking is essentially unchanged at 47th.  So yes, even after adjusting for the cost of living, West Virginia teachers have a low average salary compared to other states. West Virginia has one of the lowest median household incomes in the nation at just over $41,000. The average teacher in West Virginia earns 110% of the median income value for the state, which ranks 12th highest in the nation. This means that West Virginia teachers earn more compared to the typical household in West Virginia than their peers in most other states.

In Oklahoma, the average teacher salary is near the bottom, increasing slightly when adjusted for cost of living, declining a few spots when compared to median household income for the state. Kentucky stands out among the included states, because the average teacher salary is near the national average, and ranks 15th when adjusted for cost of living, and 4th when compared to median household income for the state. Arizona teachers are among the lowest paid in the country, no matter which metric you consider.

Arkansas’ average teacher salaries rank 40th nationally, but increase to 22nd after adjusting for our state’s low cost of living.  The average Arkansas teacher salary is 117% of the median income for the state, ranking 7th highest in the country.

Teacher salaries are generally determined by local districts, as they are in Arkansas, or negotiated through contracts with teacher unions. We suggest that teacher salaries should reflect strategic goals of the local education agency and/or the state.  Want to attract more quality applicants into teaching?  Raise starting teacher salaries!  Want to increase applicants to high poverty districts?  Provide bonuses, loan forgiveness, or other incentives for those teachers.  There are many ideas about how adjusting teacher salaries can positively influence student learning, unfortunately, across-the-board-raises for current teachers isn’t one of them.

A couple of things to note:

  1. The average teacher salary is just that, an average for the state.  Teacher salaries often vary based on education and experience, which is not captured in this information.  It is possible that teachers in some states are more educated and experienced than teachers in other states, which could account for some of the difference in average salary.  Also, this does not capture the minimum starting teacher salary, or the ‘top of the scale’ salary. In the report we completed for Arkansas, we control for teacher experience and education in district-by-district salary comparisons.
  2. Cost of living can vary significantly within states, so a more detailed analysis can  identify the relative ‘purchasing power’ of teacher salaries by district.  We present this information for each Arkansas district in the teacher salary report.
  3. We acknowledge that teachers are required to complete additional education to obtain their license, and the typical household is not.  We are not suggesting that teachers salaries should be tied to the median income for their state, but rather view the median income as an indicator of state resources, and the relationship between teacher salaries and household income as a reflection of the value being placed on teachers in the state. Information about the relationship between Arkansas districts and the median household income in their communities is included in our teacher salary report.


NAEP: What Have we Learned Thus Far?

In The View from the OEP on April 3, 2018 at 1:33 pm


In light of the fact that the 2017 NAEP Results will be released next week (and which may be lower than hoped), here at OEP we thought it fitting to examine Arkansas’ performance over time. A recent article posted by Education Next highlighted states that have experienced statistically significant changes (positive or negative) in their NAEP results from 2011 to 2015. Arkansas experienced a significant decline in the 4th and 8th grade math scores but had no significant change in reading scores during that time.  In examining the scores at the racial subgroup level, there were statistically significant declines in Math scale scores among White Arkansas students in 2011 to 2015. We like more data, and take a look at Arkansas’ NAEP scores since 2003.

Overall Trends

In November 2015, OEP released a Policy Brief that highlighted Arkansas’ NAEP scores over the years.  Figure 1 presents the scores for 4th and 8th grade math and reading since 2003. Over time, Math scores have increased slightly but have decreased by 5 and 3 points in 2015 in 4th and 8th grade respectively. Reading scores, however, have remained fairly unchanged in 4th and 8th grade exams.

Figure 1: Average Scale Score on Arkansas’ NAEP Exams, 2003-2015

NAEP Figure 1

In comparison to bordering states, Arkansas students showed varying trends depending on the grade and subject over the years. Figure 2 below presents the comparison by grade and content areas.


Figure 2: Mean NAEP Scale Scores for Arkansas, Bordering States and the US, 2003-2015

NAEP Figure 2

In 4th grade math, Arkansas students initially scored lower than their peers in bordering states in 2003, but surpassed their scores consistently until 2013. In 2015 however, Arkansas decreased its scaled score by 5 points which put them 4 points lower than that of the bordering states.

In 8th grade math a different trend emerged. In 2003 Arkansas scored 5 points less than students in bordering states, however over time, the scores steadily increased to match that of the bordering states, decreasing slightly in 2015.

In 4th grade reading, Arkansas students scored slightly higher than the bordering states, except in 2009 where they scored similarly. Arkansas students’ scores increased some between 2003 and 2005 but remained fairly consistent until 2011. In 2013 there was a slight increase in scores, but the scores declined a bit in 2015.

With 8th grade reading there were essentially no differences between Arkansas students and students in the bordering states over time. A slight decrease can be seen for Arkansas students in 2015.

Subgroup Trends

We thought it would be helpful to look at the NAEP results over time at the sub-group level to determine whether or not there were significant gaps among racial groups, free/reduced lunch eligible groupings, or gender group.

Racial Gaps

Between 2003 and 2015, Arkansas reduced the score gaps between white and minority students, but the gap closure was a result of a 2015 decline in the scores for white students. Closing the gap by lowering performance is not good news for Arkansas.

As presented in Figure 3, Arkansas’ White-Black gap in 4th grade math scores was reduced four times more than the national gap within that time period. Arkansas had reduced the gap by 12 points within that time period whereas nationally, the gap only reduced by 3 points. A similar trend that emerged for 8th grade math and all reading scores in that time. Once again, it should be noted that the gap closure was a result of lowering the performance of white students in 2015, and is not good news for Arkansas.

Figure 3: National and Arkansas’ Trend in 4th Grade Math Scale Scores, White and Black Students, 2003-2015

NAEP Figure 3

Figure 4 presents the White-Hispanic gap in 4th grade math between 2003 and 2015. Again, Arkansas had a smaller gap than that nation, and Arkansas narrowed the gap by more points than that of the nation (although this was due to decreased performance of white students). There are some slight differences among the other grades and subject areas over time as the gap widened slightly in Arkansas, specifically in 2007, before narrowing from then on. Though there was a widening of the gap, Arkansas still had a lesser White/Hispanic gap in comparison to the nation which is some positive news.

Figure 4: National and Arkansas’ Trend in 4th Grade Math Scale Scores, White and Hispanic Students, 2003-2015

NAEP Figure 4

Gaps based on Free/Reduced Lunch Eligibility

Between 2003 and 2015, Arkansas reduced the score gaps between students eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch and those who were ineligible for the program, but this again was the result of decreased performance of higher-achieving students.

The trend illustrated in Figure 5 for 4th grade math students nationally and in Arkansas is representative of similar trends that emerged in other grades and subject areas. The gap based on FRL eligibility increased slightly from 2003 but remained fairly consistent over time.  In 4th grade math and reading, the gap began to narrow slightly in 2013 and persisted in 2015, due to declining performance of the ineligible students.

Overall, Arkansas does have a slightly smaller gap in comparison to the national values. 4th grade math students show approximately a 24 point difference between the two groups, and there is a similar value for 8th grade math students.  Nationally, 4th grade students have shown a 28 point difference between the two groups and a 24 point difference in 8th grade.  The national gaps have remained consistent over time.

Figure 5 National and Arkansas trend in 4th grade Math score and gaps based on Free/Reduced Lunch eligibility, 2003-2015

NAEP Figure 6

Gender Gap

The Arkansas gender gap is similar to the national results. As presented in Figure 6, Arkansas’ males and females have consistently performed similarly in 4th and 8th grade math since 2003.  Arkansas’ reading gaps mirror those found across the nation, with females scoring 7-10 points higher than their male peers.

Figure 6: Arkansas’ Trend in Math and Reading Scale Scores and gaps between Male and Female Students, 2003-2015

NAEP Figure 5

To summarize, since 2003, Arkansas’ NAEP scores haven’t changed much and generally mirror the performance patterns we see across the nation and in our bordering states.  In 2015, the score gaps between racial and poverty groups became smaller, but only as a result of declining performance in the higher-achieving group.

Be sure to tune in next week to learn what the new results say for Arkansas!


Are Arkansas Teachers Too White?

In The View from the OEP on March 27, 2018 at 1:22 pm

Okay- that’s a provocative question, but here at OEP we have been thinking a lot about the diversity of the educator workforce in Arkansas (and will be digging into many aspects of the teacher pipeline in our upcoming conference– be sure to register).

Did you know that nearly all of Arkansas’ teachers are white? It’s true! In the 2016-17 school year, over 91% of teachers in Arkansas schools indicated that they considered themselves white.

And we are concerned because over a third of Arkansas students are non-white, and research shows that minority students can benefit from having a teacher of their same race, particularly economically disadvantaged black students.  Long-run impacts of having a demographically-matched teacher in grades 3, 4, or 5 include a significant reduction in the probability that the students drops out of high school, and an increase in aspirations to attend a four-year college.

So while we hope Arkansas teachers look like this picture on the ADE website …

Screen Shot 2018-03-27 at 9.55.28 AM

… almost all Arkansas teachers are white, like our Teacher of the Year Courtney Cochran!  courtney

While Courtney is a great and culturally responsive teacher (who will be speaking at the OEP conference), it is concerning that Arkansas’ minority students are unlikely to encounter teachers that are racial role models. Figure 1, below, highlights the racial imbalance between Arkansas students and their teachers.

Figure 1: Arkansas students and teachers by race, 2016-17.


As can be seen in the figure, 13% of Arkansas students are Hispanic, but less than 1% of our teachers are.  Twenty percent of students are black, but black teachers comprise only 7% of the teaching workforce.  Although only 62% of students are white, over 91% of Arkansas teachers are white.

Looking at the diversity gap as the difference between student and teacher population percentages is one method for quantifying the problem, but a recent article used alternative approaches.  Because we know that student populations are typically more diverse than the adult population, the researchers suggest that comparing demographic representation between teacher and student populations is unfair, and a better comparison for appropriate representation among teachers would be the adult population in the state.  Figure 2 expands on the prior figure by include the racial breakdown of Arkansas’ adult working population (ages 21-61).

Figure 2: Arkansas students, teachers, and adults by race, 2016-17.


As represented in the figure, Arkansas teachers are far less likely to be Hispanic and black than the adult working population as a whole.  Although 6% of the adult population identified as Hispanic, less than one percent of teachers do so, and while 16% of adults in the state are black, only 7% of our teachers are.

Since teachers are not representative of students or adults, we definitely need to attract and retain more diverse teachers!

Arkansas isn’t the only state facing a lack of teacher diversity while also facing concerns about a shortage of qualified teachers overall. Some states have been attempting to solve both problems simultaneously, by creating incentives for recruitment and retention of teachers of color, but a recent report indicates that the lack of minority representation among the teacher workforce and teacher shortages do not seem to be closely related, so we should not assume that addressing one problem would implicitly fix the other.

What Can Districts Do?

While the state is working to address the issues from a broader perspective, districts can take specific actions that may help diversify their teacher workforce.  A new analysis found a strong association between workforce diversity and incentive policies that may be particularly attractive for minority teachers.

The researchers considered a variety of incentives including recruitment tools and those intended to reward specific types of teachers.

  • Recruitment incentives included: signing bonuses, student loan forgiveness, funds to assist with relocation expenses, and finder’s fees to existing district staff for referring those hired as new teachers.
  • Reward incentives included: bonuses for obtaining National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) certification, demonstrating excellence in teaching (aka Merit Pay), teaching in schools in “less desirable” locations, or filling positions in fields or subject areas experiencing shortage.

Specific incentives do seem to make a difference in attracting minority teachers. Offering relocation assistance appeared to be the strongest predictor of a more diverse teacher workforce, followed closely by loan forgiveness, bonuses for excellence in teaching, and teaching in less desirable locations. The researchers suggest that these incentives are motivating to minority teachers because they are significantly more likley to have higher balances on student loans, and so are more cost constrained.

Nearly half of Arkansas districts offer some type of teacher incentive, according to an OEP survey conducted last spring. Compared to the national data, Arkansas districts were less likely to offer relocation assistance or Merit Pay, but much more likely to offer loan forgiveness as an incentive.  An interesting finding, however, was that although many districts were offering incentives to teachers, fewer than half advertised the incentives to prospective teachers. Getting the information to prospective teachers would be a great way to leverage the incentives being offered.

Come Learn More!  We are looking forward to learning more about increasing diversity in our teacher pipeline at the OEP conference April 24th and hope you will join us to share your thoughts. District leaders, teacher preparation programs, Courtney Cochran (Arkansas Teacher of the Year), and ADE staff will join OEP and our national speakers to consider Arkansas’ Teacher Pipeline: What we know, what we are doing, and what more we could be doing.





Concerned about Arkansas’ Teacher Pipeline? Come to the OEP conference!

In The View from the OEP on March 13, 2018 at 2:00 pm

Do you want to learn about new research examining the supply and demand for teachers in the state, and learn how districts are recruiting and retaining great teachers?  Come hear from students, district leadership, researchers, ADE staff, and national leaders on teacher talent at the 2018 OEP Conference.

There is no cost to attend but space is limited, so register now!

Date: Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Time: 8:30am to 3pm
Location: Heifer International in Little Rock



Arkansas’ Teacher Pipeline:

What we know, what we are doing, and what more we could be doing.

Saroja Warner will present the Keynote on talent management in our education system.  Dr. Warner is the Director of Educator Preparation Initiatives at CCSSO where she directs initiatives that support state authorities to ensure educators enter the workforce ready to advance student learning, represent the demographic diversity of K12 students, and lead schools that support student achievement.

Keith Look was featured by Education Week while he was the Principal of the lowest-performing high school in Kentucky.  Currently the Superintendent of Danville, Kentucky, Dr. Look will share his experience in attracting, hiring, and supporting talented teachers to a high-poverty, ‘turnaround’ school.

Breakout sessions feature speakers and panels discussing research, practice, and policy surrounding teacher preparation, recruitment, and retention.

  • Who Needs Teachers?  An Exploration of Supply and Demand in Arkansas Districts
  • Increasing the Teacher Pipeline: The Teacher Cadet Model (Student panel)
  • What’s Up in Teacher Prep? (Higher Ed panel)
  • Supporting the Teacher Pipeline: Leadership Support Systems
  • Arkansas Teacher of the Year: Courtney Cochran
  • Quitting Your Day Job: An Analysis of Teacher Retention in Arkansas
  • Success and Opportunity in Talent Management (District panel)
  • Growing Your Own Teachers; Why and How
  • The Arkansas Academy for Educational Equity: Boosting the Effectiveness of Early Career Teachers in High-Poverty Schools
  • Arkansas Teacher Corps: Going Where Needed
  • Enhancing the Teacher Pipeline through Teacher Leadership
  • Ensuring Access to Effective Educators: Equity Labs

Lunch will be provided, professional development certificates will be available, and there is no cost to attend. Space is limited. Register now- and we’ll see you there!

Breaking the Poverty Cycle- tips from CPI

In The View from the OEP on March 6, 2018 at 1:59 pm


Here at OEP, we are always excited to see news that Arkansas is making a difference for students, and a new report highlights a program where low-income parents are earning college degrees and certificates at twice the rate of their community college peers.  This is great news!

What is the program?
The Career Pathways Initiative (CPI), has been in place for over a decade and has provided education and training to more than 30,000 low-income and mostly single-parent Arkansans.  The ‘secret’ to the program seems simple: start with an assessment of a student’s skills, weaknesses and career goals, identify barriers that these non-traditional students face, and provide resources and support to help them be successful.
The main resource for students is a case manager. Case managers, who serve between 40 and 80 students each, begin with an assessment of each student’s skills, weaknesses and career goals, then provide a variety of supports based on the student’s needs.
According to the report, CPI case management services include:
•Hands-on Advising and Career Planning. This includes academic and skill assessment, aptitude and interest inventory, career plan development, and accountability measures to monitor class attendance and student progress.
•Family support, including financial support for childcare and transportation expenses.
•Coursework support, including funds available for textbooks, calculators, and some technology support.
•Employment support services, from resume writing, to interview preparation and job application completion.
How do we know it works?
An external evaluation compared nine years of CPI participants to matched comparison pools of similar low-income parents who did not participate in CPI, and to the general community college population who did not receive the CPI treatment. These comparison groups were matched for age, gender, income prior to entering the program, and locale.  The researchers compared certificate and degree outcomes, as well as income levels one year after leaving the program.  Results are below:
  • CPI participants graduate with a degree or certificate at higher rates. More than 52% of all 27,517 low-income participants enrolled in the CPI between 2006 and 2013 graduated with a degree or certificate compared to a 24% completion rate of Arkansas community college students who did not participate in CPI.
  • CPI students of color complete a degree or certificate at higher rates. Forty five percent of all African American CPI participants have completed at least one higher education degree or certificate, compared to only 17% of African American non-CPI community college students students in Arkansas. Fifty-six percent of Hispanic CPI students exited with at least one degree or certificate compared to only 14% of Hispanic community college students who did not participate.
  • CPI participants complete a degree or certificate more quickly. Sixty two percent of CPI students who enrolled in 2008 had completed a degree or certificate within five years, and nationally only 39% of students who enrolled at a public two-year college completed a degree or certificate in this same time period.
  • CPI students earn more money. CPI graduates who enrolled in 2011 earned $3,100 more in their first year than their counterparts from the same region and field of employment, despite having earned similar incomes prior to entry into the program.
Where does the funding come from?
CPI was established in 2005 utilizing existing dollars from Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) funds. A part of the evaluation focused on the Return on Investment and found 179 percent return on the state’s initial investment in the program when combined with increased tax revenues.

We are excited to spread the word about the Arkansas Career Pathways Initiative and how it is effectively supporting low-income parents as they get the education and experience needed to achieve economic self-sufficiency.  We hope that your school is doing the same for your students! Here at OEP, we feel there are several aspects of CPI that all schools could learn from and use to help students be successful.
1) Start with determining where students are, where they want to go, and what might get in their way. In the CPI program, assessment information is collected and student goals are identified as the starting point. Possible barriers are identified and supports are put into place to help- be it finding childcare or providing vouchers for gas.  This student-centered planning is a great practice for those working with students at every level. Are students in your school having their goals heard and receiving help to overcome the obstacles to success?

2) Monitor student progress. In the CPI program, student progress towards educational and career goals is closely monitored, and supports are put in place as needed. Case managers understand the participants holistically, and draw no boundaries around the kind of supports needed to help a student persist in his or her journey toward a better life.  How is your school monitoring student progress and what steps are you taking to intervene to help students meet their goals?


3) Gather lots of data.  The Arkansas legislature required CPI to keep a database regarding degrees earned, job placement and retention and wages for their students.  According to the report, these data are unique in the country and have allowed a more rigorous evaluation of educational and economic outcomes of the program that are typical in the field. Arkansas educators and policymakers benefit from a robust K-12 longitudinal data system, but we often don’t consider how our students do once they leave our school, and but we don’t yet have helpful connections to college or workforce outcomes for our students.  As a state, we need to ensure these data are available so we can determine how well we are preparing students for college and careers. How is your school gathering information about student outcomes once they leave your building?

4) Make meaningful comparisons.  The matched comparison model used by the researchers compares CPI participants with similar low-income parents who are not participating in CPI and with Arkansas community college students as a whole. These comparisons allow policymakers to make informed decisions about the value of such investments in the future. How has your school identified a meaningful comparison group?
5) Think creatively about your funding.  CPI re-purposed existing funds in an innovative way, which led to better outcomes for students. Does your school examine how effectively funds are being used or just continue to fund the same projects while adding new ones?

More good news for Arkansas students!

In The View from the OEP on February 27, 2018 at 2:46 pm

Funding Gaps

Last week, we highlighted the great opportunity provided to juniors through Arkansas’ universal ACT policy, and today we share good news about school funding! Finding similar patterns as those in our most recent OEP funding analysis, the new report released today from Education Trust compares school funding across the U.S. and within each state, and the results look great for Arkansas students!

The Ed Trust report examines funding from an equity standpoint: how the revenues of districts that serve higher percentages of students living in poverty or students of color compare with those of their counterparts. The analysis compares the average revenues of groups of districts (the quartiles with the highest poverty and lowest poverty districts, for example).

More simply, this Education Trust report (as have past reports from the group) examines the extent to which the states provide equitable school funding to traditionally disadvantaged students. In some states, students in poor districts have continued to receive fewer educational resources than students in wealthy districts. The good news is that Arkansas is NOT one of those states! In fact, school funding in Arkansas has been mostly progressive for the past 15 years or so — for the most part, students in lower-income districts (and in districts serving more students of color) have received higher levels of education funding per pupil.

How do the revenues of High-Poverty Districts compare with those of Low-Poverty Districts?
Across the country, the highest poverty districts receive about $1,000, or 7 percent, less per pupil in state and local funding than the lowest poverty districts.  As can be seen in Figure 1 below, in Arkansas the highest poverty districts receive $895, or 10 percent, MORE per pupil than the lowest poverty districts. Utah leads the nation with the highest poverty districts receiving 21 percent more funding than the lowest poverty districts, but Arkansas ranks 8th in the nation for the progressive education funding related to poverty rates.
Figure 1. Arkansas State and Local Revenues by Poverty Quartile
Poverty Funding

How do the revenues of districts serving the most Students of Color compare with the revenue of those serving the fewest Students of Color? 

Across the country, districts serving the most students of color receive about $1,800, or 13 percent, less per student than districts serving the fewest students of color. As can be seen in Figure 2 below, Arkansas districts serving the most students of color receive $967, or 10 percent MORE per pupil than the districts serving the fewest students of color.  In this analysis, Ohio leads the nation with the districts serving the most students of color receive 28 percent more in state and local funds per student than districts serving the fewest students of color. Arkansas ranks 6th in the nation for the progressive funding in place with regard to students of color.

Figure 2. Arkansas State and Local Revenues by Student of Color Enrollment Quartile
SOC Funding

Where Does the Revenue Come From?

In addition to differences in the amount of revenue provided to districts, the report examines the share of school funding dollars that come from state and local sources. On average, about 50 percent of school funding dollars come from local dollars. The report’s authors note that “state dollars are the funds that legislatures can and should use” to counteract differences in local dollars.  In the report, Arkansas is shown to have 86 percent of districts’ non-federal revenues coming from state sources, but we disagree.  This is an example of the challenges facing researchers who are trying to understand the complexities in each state’s education funding.

Arkansas’ education funding formula calls for the state to equalize funding across districts, so districts first levy at least 25 mills for the uniform rate of tax (URT), then the state makes up the difference between that amount and the state-mandated minimum funding level. As close as we can tell, Ed Trust considered the URT a ‘state contribution’.  When URT is more appropriately considered ‘local contribution’, Arkansas’ non-federal funding presents a more typical pattern, with funds relatively evenly divided between  local and state funds.

Hooray for Arkansas, now take the next step: School level funding reports

While both the Ed Trust report and the more in-depth OEP 2015 funding report for Arkansas’ funding appears more equitable than the funding in many states, it is important to note that all of this research on school funding equity (and nearly all research on funding equity) examines district-level school funding.  Thus, while this research is informative, it provides no information on how funding flows across schools within districts. If we want to truly understand the level of funding equity in our system, we need to be able to dig deeper than funding aggregated up to school district levels.

Indeed, previous research shows that even when funding for districts is progressive at the state level, dollars may be distributed regressively for schools within districts (wealthier schools within the districts get more funding). In Arkansas, as in most states, researchers have very little information on within-district school funding equity because data on school-level finances are not released. Surely, with all of our advances in computing and technology, we can do a better job of gathering and reporting school-level funding.

We aren’t the only ones who think this is a good idea: School-level reporting is required under ESSA, although states may get to delay reporting while they develop their financial systems.  We applaud our state leaders for the forward- thinking funding policies that they have put in place, and propose that school-level financial reporting would provide even better information about how equitably and effectively resources (including teachers) are being allocated to students.

The Universal ACT in Arkansas — Connecting School Accountability with Student Postsecondary Success

In The View from the OEP on February 20, 2018 at 3:40 pm

Next Tuesday is ACT Day in Arkansas!

This is the third year that all Arkansas public school juniors are being given the opportunity to take the ACT at their home school, during a regular school day, for free.

While it’s not unusual for students to take tests while at school, Arkansas is one of a small but growing number of states (currently, about 13) that offer all students free and accessible opportunities to sit for College Entrance Exams.  The ACT, of course, is a meaningful test for students and schools.  It is meaningful for students because it is a college entrance exam required for admission to virtually all selective colleges in the US.  It is meaningful for schools because it is a part of how school quality is being measured.

This, folks, is one of those cases where accountability is well designed — all of the incentives are pointed in a similar (and an appropriate) direction! The ACT is a rare school standardized assessment that truly matters for the students; thus, students are incentivized to take the exam seriously and show what they truly know in the four areas tested.

Moreover, in the Arkansas testing regime, the outcome of this assessment matters for schools, so school leaders have the incentive to help kids prepare for this exam. Indeed, at least some high schools in Arkansas are offering ACT-prep as an elective course for high school students. It seems to us that all high schools should jump on board. This is the best sort of “teaching to the test.” ACT-prep would involve reviews of mathematical concepts, the development of strategies for high-speed comprehension of challenging texts, the implementation of rules for writing and grammar that would improve the future writing of students, and practice in analyzing graphs and tables. Each of these skills are useful on the ACT exam and beyond!

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On the OEP Blog, we do like to celebrate the accomplishments of the schools and school policymakers in the Natural State. However, if there’s one thing we like more than sharing accomplishments, it’s talking about research & evidence. Therefore, we are especially happy to celebrate Arkansas’s policy to offer free ACT for all students, because recent research highlights just how big a difference universal testing can make for students, especially low-income students who might not self-select to take the ACT.

The research, by Joshua Hyman, examined the effects of the universal ACT policy on public high school students in Michigan.  The ACT was required of juniors in the Michigan public schools for ten years, increasing the share of Michigan’s low-income high school students taking a college entrance exam from 35 percent to nearly 99 percent. You might remember that we highlighted Michigan’s score increases in our blog last year. Beyond Michigan, Caroline Hoxby and Christopher Avery looked at national data and found that more than half of the most talented low-income students did not even apply to a competitive college, despite the fact that they were qualified. Thus, interventions that help uncover talented potential college applicants are much needed! Of course, this ACT intervention won’t matter much for the high-achieving students with full AP-courseloads — they were taking college entrance exams anyway. This also won’t matter much for students who are absolutely certain they do not want to go to college.

However, perhaps the key beneficiaries of this type of program will be high-ability low-income students (the students that teachers had not yet identified as academically talented). In Arkansas, each Spring, hundreds of students across the state will be pleasantly surprised when their ACT test results indicate that they are not only “college material”, but in fact very competitive for lucrative scholarships! Of course, this will not happen on its own — school counselors across the state will have to be diligent and on the lookout for these students who receive these “surprisingly” good scores to help them take the next steps. Programs such as the Rogers Honors Academy might serve as good examples.

To further applaud our leaders, it is worth noting that this is not the only way the ADE is supporting ACT-test-taking, nor the only example of Arkansas increase access to important exams. Currently, the ADE is promoting its NoLimits campaign, which distributes information about the ACT, encourages students to that kids take the exams more than once, and more widely shares information about fee waivers for low-income students. Moreover, for the past 15 years or so, Arkansas has offered free AP exams and this has led to increased participation in high-level AP coursework from under-represented groups of students.

Can all of this make a difference? In Michigan, Hyman found that the number of college-ready low-income students taking the ACT increased by 50% after the universal testing program was implemented. As a result of this policy, more low-income students have been heading off to college each Fall. Let’s hope we have the same good fortune in Arkansas!

Pencils ready?  Begin!